Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten, fills a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond. Founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy, it soon became a bustling center of international trade. Today it is as bustling as ever, with lively shopping streets, cafes, and hotels.
Two main roads cut across the length of Philipsburg–Front Street and, yes, Back Street. Front Street, the main thoroughfare, is lined with duty-free shops offering everything from Italian leather goods and Japanese cameras to native crafts. Narrow alleyways lead in either direction to arcades and courtyards filled with flowers. Visitors will also find examples of traditional West Indian architecture, including characteristic pastel-colored houses with second-story verandas looking out over the street.